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Survivors of foodborne illness demand action on bill

By the CNN Wire Staff
In the wake of the salmonella outbreak that led to the recall of millions of eggs, advocates want stronger food safety laws.
In the wake of the salmonella outbreak that led to the recall of millions of eggs, advocates want stronger food safety laws.
  • Advocates want the Senate to pass a food safety bill when it reconvenes
  • The House of Representatives passed the change in July 2009
  • Groups detailed recalls that have taken place since then
  • The proposed act would give the FDA more power over food recalls

Washington (CNN) -- Food-safety advocates and survivors of food-borne illness called Wednesday for the U.S. Senate to pass a bill that has been in limbo since last year.

"When things go wrong with the food supply, consumers sometimes are the last to know but the first to pay," said Caroline DeWaal of the Washington-based, non-profit advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The group released a report Wednesday detailing the food recalls that have occurred since July 2009, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would give more power and responsibility to the Food and Drug Administration to make the food supply safer.

In the 13 intervening months, the Senate has failed to pass companion legislation, she said. During that time, 85 recalls of FDA-regulated foods have been announced, she said.

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Christopher Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, which helped prepare the eight-page report, said 14 of the recalls covered all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Eighty percent were the result of microbial contamination -- salmonella (42 percent) or listeria (38 percent) -- both of which can prove fatal, he said. The recalls were associated with 1,850 reported illnesses -- most from the recent egg recall -- though that likely underestimates the true number since "reported illnesses account for only a fraction of the true number of food-related illness in the country," he said.

One of those reportedly sickened by recalled food was Rylee Gustafson, 13, of Henderson, Nevada. Four years ago, after eating spinach contaminated with E. coli, she got pain in her stomach, she said. That was followed by bloody diarrhea, swelling around her brain, kidney failure, diabetes and loss of vision and hearing, she said.

"I am OK now," she said, looking healthy. After recovering from her illness, she started advocating for food safety, she said. "My experience has shown me you can't assume we are protected, so we have to demand the government does its job well."

The proposed Food Safety Enhancement Act (S. 510) covers many aspects of food safety, including better preventive control measures by manufacturers, more frequent inspections of facilities, and greater FDA authority over recalls.

"We believe it would significantly cut down on the number of recalls and, when they do occur, it would allow the FDA to identify the food more quickly," CSPI's DeWaal said.

She said that, despite bipartisan support for the bill, it has not been brought to the floor. "We've been told that the legislation was on the calendar for at least the last six months," she said. "This is an urgent priority for the American consumer and we need to make it an urgent priority for American senators as well."